Rating: 4.6 out of 5
David Dalglish writes what I want to read. He’s listed as a fantasy author, and his books take place in a world that includes magic, orcs, wolf-men, paladins, knights, and ancient gods, but that’s only the surface of what’s happening. I look at Dalglish’s work like this – whimsical explorations of modern-day themes and issues that both entertain and force the reader to examine what goes on in the real world around them.
Clash of Faiths, the second book in his Paladins series, is no different. It continues the story of Jerico and Darius, the paladins of Ashhur and Karak, respectively, and their struggles in the time after the attempted wolf-man invasion of Durham. Jerico finds himself up north, prisoner of a man named Kaide, who is heading up a people’s rebellion against the brutal Lord Hemman. It might not be the best of situations to be in, but at least he’s hidden from the legions of Karak who are hunting him, those who’ve recently destroyed the Citadel, leaving Jerico as possibly the last of his kind. All the while Darius is stumbling about all by his lonesome, getting into trouble and being an overall grouchypants after his run-in with Velixar, Karak’s prophet. And Velixar isn’t done with him…not in the slightest. It is the Big V’s principal goal to lead Darius back to his faith – or the Dark Side, if you will.
The story plays out in equally distributed parts, flipping from Jerico to Darius and back again, paralleling their respective struggles and demonstrating just the types of people these two faithful men are. Jerico joins forces with Kaide (who is actually one of my favorite characters Dalglish has ever created; a living, breathing, gray area of a concept) against Lord Sebastian Hemman, while Darius ends up being thrown in prison by said Lord, for the sin of not being faithful enough to Karak’s cause, even though Darius is constantly professing his love of the deity…and believing every word of it. It is there, while in prison, that Velixar comes to him once again, therefore setting the stage for the rest of the tale to play out.
The story climaxes in a final battle between Hemman’s men and Kaide’s army of farmers and merchants. Unlike most episodes of warfare in Dalglish’s novels, this one is brisk, taking up only perhaps a tenth of the text. Why is that? Because the fighting, while intriguing, isn’t the point of the book. It only serves as a metaphor for the war raging inside Darius’s head – can he love his friend even after all he’s been through, what constitutes righteousness in a faith that preaches order and conquest above adoration, and which system of belief is right, which is wrong, and does it even matter if he chooses one over the other?
This is what makes Dalglish’s books so special to me – those posed questions. And finally, we have the order of Karak shown to be what I’ve long suspected it is – a religious cult that uses suppression and mind control to grow its following. One might ask, but why would someone willingly join a cult like that? The answer is quite simple, given the context of the world it exists in: there is safety in power, in influence, and Karak offers that. The deity promises protection (and a lack of decapitation) to those who follow, while those who don’t are doomed to a lifetime of pain and flight from an aggressive enemy. Add to that the fact that the concepts of order and self-control are the tenets of the faith, and one could understand how an individual who feels unstable could look at the order as a way to heal the fractured parts within them. There are many similar cults, such as Scientology, in the world today that do much of the same. They rely on coercion and peoples’ inherent insecurities to draw them in, promising solutions to the ills of their lives, and then instill the members with an us-against-the-world mentality. If you’re not for us, you’re against us, to the extreme. It is these elements that make Dalglish’s books that much more important, not to mention insightful, than many other works of fiction.
To counterbalance Karak’s aggressive, neo-fascist nature, we have followers of Ashhur, the passive, loving god. When I first started reading these novels, I always took Ashhur to be a representation of Christianity – which I’m sure the author intended. However, the more I read, the more I realize that this is not entirely the case. In fact, you can look at it like this: Ashhur’s teachings are the manifestation of all that is good in spiritual belief; the care for others, the virtue of forgiveness, the living of life with the sole aim of being the best individual you can be. It’s an inclusive system of belief, one in which all people, even those who don’t believe, are treated as equals. Unlike the history of Christianity, Ashhur’s followers don’t actively seek to convert the people, only to show how much they care, saying that if you ever need a place to stay, a steadying hand to lead the way, someone to heal your sore and tired bones, we’ll be here with no strings attached. In other words, everyone has a chance at salvation, whether they buy into the dogma or not. And Jerico embodies this. He treats every person he meets with the same amount of respect until they prove a danger. This is also the reason why Darius has a very difficult time understanding his friend’s actions: to the dark paladin, existence is a series of trials, of sacrifices, both mentally and physically, to a demanding god. The mere concept of something like forgiveness, or even pity, are lost on him, at least on the surface. But once he dives a little deeper, he has the potential to learn that not only is he capable of changing, of becoming something other than the stormtrooper of death he is, but all people are. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.
I’ve gone on a bit of a tangent here, and I’m sure this sounds more like a term paper than a review, but I felt this book deserved to be broken down in this way. Every word written down means something – each line of dialogue, each description, each instance of cruelty or kindness. That being said, the only thing I didn’t like about Clash of Faiths was the very end of the book. After so much flowing prose and inner turmoil, it seemed that suddenly everything happens too quickly, especially Darius’s character development. I would’ve liked some more exposition, more scenes of him questioning his faith and coming to grips with the possibility that what he’s always believed may be a lie. But that didn’t happen, and in a way that’s a shame. Darius and Jerico, and their relationship as brothers-in-spirit, deserved it.
That being said, this is still a wonderful book. It more than adds to the canon of David Dalglish’s work – it creates a template for the beliefs of the world that I’m sure will be carried on in volumes to come. The scenes that built upon what we already know about the characters were wonderful. And Velixar? Let’s just say he’s deliciously evil, and whenever he appears on the page, that scene becomes his. Also, one thing the ending did get right was introduce us to a new, potentially lethal villain, one that I’m sure will appear in the next book and wreck all sorts of ungodly havoc. Just that has me excited to continue.
In closing, Clash of Faiths is well worth a read, for both fans of Dalglish and those new to his work. It’s filled with important questions and shrewd observations of the world at large, and it is an improvement on the previous book in the series. I seriously can’t give the author any more props than to say I’m a fan for life, that everything he does strikes me where it counts, and it is always a joy to read what he puts on paper. To me he is the best fantasy author of his generation, the Stephen King of the sword-and-sorcery genre who transcends the normal tropes, and even when there are things I think can be improved, what he puts out there is second to absolutely no one.
Plot – 10
Characters - 10
Voice - 10
Execution - 7
Personal Enjoyment – 9
Overall – 46/50 (4.6/5)
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